It’s definitely spring now, and the animals are starting to get rid of that heavy winter coat. Most people are familiar with the concept of grooming their cat or dog, or a horse, but may not necessarily associate it with cows. However, if you own just one or a few cows, you may want to consider grooming & bathing them to help that shedding process. Let me tell you how & why I take the time for grooming with my girls.
The Daily Routine
Through most of the year, I take at least a quick minute to brush each cow most days. Our routine is that they come into the parlor for a “breakfast” snack each morning, whether or not they’re currently milking. It makes the parlor a safe, familiar, comfortable place for them. So while they’re there, it’s the perfect opportunity to give each one a “go over”. Even if I just quick brush the loose dirt off, it’s a way to get my hands on and look over each cow to make sure nothing’s wrong. That daily familiarity with your cow helps you to notice when something isn’t quite right, and it helps her to feel safe & comfortable with your handling of her.
The one thing that I notice in the spring, is that shedding makes them ITCHY. They start scratching themselves on fenceposts, trees….anything possible. And they’ll rub themselves bald & raw if left to it….yes, even if they don’t have lice. So when the spring shedding starts, I first pull out the FURminator. It’s an awesome little tool that does a great job on shedding hair, with the least aggravation to my bad wrist & elbow of anything I’ve ever used for grooming. And it seems to have a great “itchy factor”, which Rousseau especially loves. It becomes part of our daily routine throughout the shedding process. If you’re not familiar with the FURminator , you really must check out their website…it really is that good. I bought the horse-sized one, and it works equally well on the horses & the cattle.
If your cows do have a lice problem, you will find that out by making grooming part of your daily routine. If you see lice & nits on the hair coming out, you’ll want to treat…somehow. I hate toxic pesticides as much as anyone, and certainly don’t like putting them on my milk cows, but sometimes you have to do something. Last spring when Keira lost her calf to hydramnios, her immune system was suppressed & she got infested pretty badly with lice, though none of the others had them. After a couple weeks of grooming out as many of the nasties as I could, I sprayed her well with a fly spray, working it into her skin, left it on for a while, then gave her a bath. From then on, practically all the lice coming off with daily grooming were dead & we didn’t have any more problems.
Giving Your Cow a Bath
So what about that bath? Ever notice black, oily grime on your hands after petting or scratching your dear family cow? Ever notice dry, flaky, itchy spots on her skin, or all that dust & dirt worked into her coat? Well….wouldn’t you want a bath? It makes me itchy just thinking about it! A good shampooing will help get rid of winter’s dry-flakies, dirt and extra hair. An added bonus during fly season is that it also helps to get rid of the saliva & smell that attracts the flies. Not to mention that when you’re done, your bovine beauty will be so nice & shiny clean that you’ll have to get the camera out for some glamour shots.
So where to start? You know your cow, so use your best judgment. Make sure you have a place you can safely tie her, where she’ll be comfortable, and that it is a reasonably warm, sunny day. I bathe mine in the parlor, where they’re already used to having legs & udders hosed off, and where they can munch feed & hay while I work. Secondly, collect everything you’ll need so you don’t have to run & get something mid-bath. At a minimum, you’ll want running water, shampoo or dish soap, a stiff brush or rubber groomer and possibly a bucket, and a rubber scraper/squeegie or some old towels. And don’t forget a fun, laid back attitude….keep it relaxed & go easy if it’s her first bath. You don’t want to push too hard & fast to get it done and upset your cow, and end up with her getting hurt. So here’s how I give my girls a bath.
After I have a cow tied in the parlor, I first groom like normal, to get as much loose hair out as possible, then I’ll hose mud off of legs & belly. I next use my eZall foamer (it’s a great all-natural product!) to spray the shampoo on her entire body. You could also just use shampoo in a bucket of water & sponge it on, or drizzle liquid dish soap into the stream of water from the hose as you spray the cow. Once the shampoo or soap is on, I use a stiff brush or rubber bath mitt to work it into the haircoat & skin, getting more shampoo onto really dirty areas if I need to. Then I rinse…and rinse…and rinse. It can take a lot of water until it’s running off clear of dirt & all the shampoo is out of the coat. All that’s left then is to scrape or towel off all the extra water & let her dry in the sunshine, which is just another great opportunity for quality time hand-grazing.
Once my girls are dry, I’ll do a final grooming to get out any remaining loose hair, brush out & trim tail switches, and possibly apply a natural fly repellant or coat conditioner. Trimming the tail switch is a detail thing that has an amazing effect on the overall appearance of your cow.
Not only does it help keep it out of the mud, but it makes the broom appear much fuller and helps your cow look much “neater” in general. If you were going to clip your cow in preparation for a show or just to neaten her up for professional looking photos, this is the time to get out the clippers. It’s also a good time to trim or singe the hair off her udder for milking. Then get the camera, get your girl to pose nicely & show off your hard work! It is worth the effort.